The UK is facing some grave challenges, with homelessness, youth-related crime, drug addiction and, even, loneliness taking its toll on the individuals involved and communities up and down the country.The police force is one section of society that is, perhaps, feeling the heat more than most, as it endeavours to respond to the increasing demands of the people it serves with fewer officers and support staff to share the workload. In a bid to meet the needs of communities in spite of the obstacles, Evangelical Alliance member the Christian Police Association (CPA) helped to set up the Faith and Police Together project in autumn last year.
The aim of the initiative, as its project manager Marie explains, is to encourage police officers and faith groups to work together more closely, and strategically, in order to significantly reduce the number of cases that sit within these four priority areas. With only 12 months to lay a foundation and get police officers and faith groups on board, Marie certainly has her work cut out.
How did the Faith and Police Together project come about?
Paul Blakey MBE, chief executive of Christian Nightlife Initiatives, Debra Green OBE, national director and founder of ROC (Redeeming Our Communities) and Lee Russell, executive director of the CPA, could see the good work that faith groups were involved with to assist the police in tackling crises that are wrecking people’s lives and our communities, as well as putting immense pressure on officers.
However, they felt that it was imperative to improve the way that these groups and the police work together. So, last year, on Monday, 16 April, in the Houses of Parliament, the Faith and Police Together (FPT) project was launched to encourage and facilitate closer working relationships.
CPA president, deputy chief constable Paul Netherton, has supported the project throughout and was instrumental in helping arrange the year’s secondment from my position as police sergeant with Norfolk Police to lead this project, get the momentum going and make this a national initiative.
I started in my role of project manager in September and hope to inspire the police to start thinking about faith communities as an untapped resource. I’ll also engage with faith communities so that they can support the police in tackling our four key priority areas: homelessness, youth-related crime, drug addiction, and loneliness.
Twelve months to build links between local police and their local faith communities seems a huge undertaking. What’s your strategy?
The key is to establish a network which sees local police around the UK build meaningful relationships with their local faith groups, and vice versa. So far, I’ve written to the national police chiefs and used my contacts within the service and the CPA to promote what I’m doing, connect with as many faith groups as possible and get the message out.
Christian organisations have played an important part in helping us to spread the word. Premier and Churches Together in England have already used their platforms to disseminate information about this initiative, and now we’re featuring in the magazine of the Evangelical Alliance. One of the main challenges at this stage is ensuring police departments hear about the initiative and catch the vision. We need buy-in; if officers aren’t sharing the message, then it’s less likely to take hold.
How each force area runs with this project will vary, because it’ll reflect the needs of their communities and the resources and support available. Hitherto, several forces, including Essex, Yorkshire, Hertfordshire and my own force Norfolk, have said that they are keen to take part. They would like to explore the approach as outlined in the FPT project.
For the duration of this project and thereafter, we expect to share best practice examples to help communities tackle these priority areas. These approaches can be ‘franchised’, or groups can mix and match or come up with their own ideas.
There were calls for the police to work more closely with faith groups following terrorist attacks in recent years. Is there any connection between that push and the FTP project?
What I’m doing with the FTP initiative is quite different and a separate operation all together, not least because we’ve got in place Prevent, which is part of the UK’s counter terrorism strategy and through that officers are engaging with all faith communities to avert acts of terrorism. However, there is a natural fallout of better connected communities, in that there’d be a flow of intelligence and information. So, there’s potential to tie in with Prevent. But, ultimately, we’re focusing on the four priority areas that I’ve mentioned. We only have one year to build the foundations and try to encourage faith communities to think about engaging with their police in a different way.
I’m the only person working on this project, so we’ve got our work cut out. But, who knows where we’ll be by the end of the year and what can be achieved afterwards? What are some of the challenges that police forces in the UK are facing?
Since 2010 there has been a significant reduction in police funding, which has resulted in 20,000 police officers as well as support staff being let go. Consequently, it’s even more challenging responding to all the needs of our communities. It’s certainly a difficult and demanding job. The police have to prioritise, and we do this based on level of vulnerability. Chief officers are speaking openly about priorities and how best to use the valuable resources that we have, and this is happening more and more. The challenges don’t take away from wanting to protect our communities; all officers, of all faiths and none, want to do a good job.
Considering cuts and continued high demand from communities, is there capacity for police forces to get behind this project?
It is certainly a challenging time and a tough period for the police, so getting behind this project might seem like extra work initially. But, if we spend time engaging with our faith communities to address these issues now, particularly addiction, there is real potential for significantly reduced demand in these areas in the long run.
Why is it important for faith groups to work with the police to tackle some of the issues that are affecting communities around the UK?
Faith groups have an incredibly high drive to do good and to see their communities transformed. This zeal is especially evident in the church. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the answer and because God is involved things will happen. We need that faith and commitment!
Meanwhile, other faith groups will have approaches that work within their communities, so they will be able to deal with certain issues better than others would. Fundamentally, faith groups form a significant part of our community; if we don’t engage them, we will be excluding them and missing out on the good that they do. We shouldn’t do that.
Which other faith groups are involved in this initiative and do you think they can set aside differences for the sake of their communities?
The FPT project is open to every faith group, and we are working with the National Association of Muslim Police, the Jewish Police Association, the National Police Pagan Association, among others, to see this initiative move forward and succeed. While there are examples of different faith groups failing to unite for a shared purpose, there are excellent examples of people from all faiths and none working together and bringing about change. So, it could be a challenge for some, but it doesn’t have to be.
It’s also important to bear in mind that each community is different and has unique needs that, as is often the case, only a specific faith group can understand and address – the Jewish and Islamic communities being prime examples. Faith groups would generally cater for their own communities and we need to leverage the advantages of that.
The FPT project focuses on four priority areas: addiction, homelessness, youth-related gang and knife crime, and loneliness. Loneliness may not have made my shortlist; why has it made the FPT project’s?
With drug addiction being one of the police service’s largest demand generators, yes, it’s expected that it would be ‘top of the list’. Addiction feeds into homelessness and anti-social behaviour, in that these are often driven by the actions of both the supplier and user.
Loneliness is different. But we have found that people who are lonely, many of whom are elderly, but not exclusively, struggle to cope at home alone and become persistent callers. They may make frequent calls, often with odd requests, to the police and ambulance services, simply because they haven’t got anyone else to talk to or they don’t know what to do in a given situation.
One force had a persistent caller and would receive a very high number of calls in a week. The force organised for this person to receive the help they needed, and once they did, they stopped calling. Worse still, loneliness could end in suicide for some, which is a tragic loss of life and creates a significant amount of work for us. The more time police spend on these cases, the less time they’ll have to tackle serious crime.
How can local churches support the FPT project?
We urge the UK church to work with us to tackle homelessness, addiction, youth-related gang and knife crime, and loneliness. First and foremost, we need the church’s prayers, so we implore congregations and individual Christians to bring these grave challenges before God. We recognise and value the great work that local churches and Christian charities are already doing in these areas. But, as people around the UK remain trapped in vicious cycles, which unsettles communities and puts significant pressure on stretched police resources, it’s essential that we continue to petition God for help.
We also encourage local churches to connect with their local police departments and establish a relationship with officers. By doing so, congregations can find out the specific issues their force is dealing with, as these change every two or four weeks. Then, congregants can pray into these particular areas as well as the broader priorities. Churches want to see their communities transformed, and are keen to help, but as they don’t have access to the information that police departments do, they are not fully informed and, therefore, will unlikely be able to channel their resources where they are most desperately needed. So, building a relationship and maintaining contact are so important.
Finally, consult with God to find out what He is calling your church congregation to do specifically. It may be laid on the heart of some local churches, for example, to provide a service for people who are lonely. Other gathered communities may sense a pull to pray into these areas during meetings. While others might be drawn to support financially an existing project which is led by a church or Christian charity. In the meantime, though, visit www.faithandpolicetogether.org to find out more.